“It feels so good to come back to Kolkata,” said Stanley Rozario, supervising 'his boys' stretch on the roof of their hotel. "It's a totally different league of football that the boys will experience this season. And God willing, I'm confident of a good performance."
Appearances can be deceptive but his 'boys' - 22 lads representing Shillong's Lajong FC - look more like they are in school. Barring three foreigners, the rest are from the hills in the Northeast and on them Rozario has pinned hopes of springing more than a surprise or two the IFA Shield, beginning here on Sunday.
"The team has got immense potential," said Rozario. "They are dedicated, extremely fit, hardworking and would want to prove a point.”
Perhaps the same goes for the former East Bengal coach too. Few could have predicted a comeback so soon after being sacked by East Bengal which followed by a none-too-happy exit from Salgaocar who won promotion to the I-League under him. Remind Rozario of that fateful Federation Cup semi-final (December 2008) against Mohun Bagan where East Bengal went down on penalties, and he turns sombre.
“It still hurts,” he said. “But past is past. Here I am at one of my favourite places, coaching one of the most exciting teams. What more could a professional coach want? I am up for the challenge.”
Based in Bangalore, Rozario has been staying in Shillong for the past two months. And for him, ‘it has been a home away from home’. “People are enthusiastic about the game there. They are honest and that reflects in their game,” he said.
To have a team based in the hills has its own advantages, according to Rozario. "Fitness comes natural to these boys and they are completely unaware of the concept of gym,” he said.
Rozario, however, is keeping fingers crossed. “These boys still don't know what it takes to face big teams in front of hostile fans. I think this (IFA Shield) experience should do a world of good for them.”